You can’t accept yourself on purpose. It is utter nonsense to imagine that this could be possible; it is nonsense to imagine that we can accept ourselves on purpose because anything we do ‘on purpose’ always involves two things – it always involves ‘the thing that we want’ and ‘the thing that we don’t want’. For there to be a goal there must also be a ‘not-goal’ – purposefulness wouldn’t work otherwise! How could we have ‘a goal’ without also having something that is not the goal, something that has to be rejected or gotten rid of as being ‘unwanted’ or ‘undesired’? There can be no ‘right’ without ‘wrong’…
When we try to accept ourselves on purpose therefore we find that we are always ‘rejecting’ to the same extent that we are ‘accepting’. There’s a paradox here in other words – if I am to accept myself then I must ‘reject the me that is unaccepting of itself’, as Alan Watts says, and this means that my act of deliberate acceptance is also an act of rejection, an act of denial, an act of raw aggression. I am ‘resisting my resistance’!
All purposeful acts have this dual nature of involving acceptance and non-acceptance, wanting and not wanting, liking and disliking – that’s how purposefulness works, as we have just said. That’s how goals work – there is a bias there, a prejudice there, an agenda there. That is what a goal (or a ‘purpose’) IS after all – it’s a bias, it’s a prejudice, it’s an agenda. This might sound so obvious as to be not worth mentioning but it is worth mentioning because we are all so convinced that we ought to be able to accept ourselves on purpose – we think that self-acceptance can be turned into a goal for the rational mind, in other words!
The rational mind can do many jobs but this is not one of them! It is a peculiarity of our Western rational culture that we think that the thinking mind should be able to do all jobs, including the jobs that involve changing how we feel about ourselves (or how we feel generally). But what would the thinking mind know about that – the thinking mind doesn’t feel anything! Our situation is like that of the carpenter who has only one tool (i.e. a hammer) and who therefore thinks that everything must be a nail!
Where this metaphor falls down here however is that – in this particular case – all tools are the wrong tool! It’s not as if we have to put the hammer back into the tool kit and pull out the screwdriver or the chisel or the handsaw instead! All tools are the wrong tool because tools are always about goals, always about agendas. When we use a tool we always have a positive orientation towards the ‘right outcome’ and a negative orientation towards the ‘wrong outcome’. ‘Accepting ourselves’ CAN’T be made into a goal, as we have already said – that would mean that there is a ‘right outcome’ and a ‘wrong outcome’ and when we are fixated upon not getting the wrong outcome (as we are bound to be when we have a goal in mind) then we are rejecting; we are ‘flexing the muscle of rejection in the name of acceptance’, which is of course utterly ridiculous.
There can’t be any straining towards acceptance – ‘straining’ means that we are ‘rejecting where we are’ and ‘trying to get somewhere different’ and there’s nothing very ‘accepting’ about that! Straining (or trying) is always about rejection, it is always about resistance, and this is precisely what we seem to find so very hard to understand. The idea of striving (or trying) to accept a situation (or ourselves) is an example of our complete lack of insight, our certain lack of psychological understanding as a culture. The problem is however that we simply don’t know what else to do. We are ‘at a loss’ and we can’t help feeling that it is better to do something than it is to ‘do nothing’, even if ‘doing something’ doesn’t actually work…
We do have other resources apart from the rational purposeful mind however – we just don’t know about them. We have another, much more powerful resource at our disposal and this is a ‘resource’ that is quite different from the fixing/analysing machine that is the thinking mind. What we are talking about here is our capacity to attend to (or be aware of) what is going on in the present moment. This happens to be a very underrated capacity – more than just underrated, this capacity of ours is something that we simply have no comprehension of it all. There’s nothing there for us to grasp hold of, nothing there for us to logically understand or prove. As we read in Chapter 3 of the Dao de Jing,
Hold aloft the Great Image,
The whole world will go to it…
Dao, when it is uttered by the mouth,
Is so bland that it has no flavour
When looked at, it is invisible,
When listened to, it is inaudible,
When in use, it is an inexhaustible.
The ‘Great Image’ is that which we can readily understand (i.e., in psychological terms, ‘a method’ or ‘a strategy’) whilst the Dao is precisely what we can never understand. We go with the thing we can understand therefore even though it doesn’t work. We go with it ‘by default’, we go with it because we don’t believe in anything else – or rather the thinking mind doesn’t! The thinking mind only believes in control. ‘Attending to what is going on in the present moment’, on the other hand, does not involve controlling (or trying to control) what is going on. If we are trying to control it then how can we ‘attend’ to it? We are too caught up in our futile attempts to change it then – the evaluating or judging eye can never see truly. When we try to change what’s going on then we are inevitably distancing ourselves from it and it is our ‘trying’ (or our ‘striving’) that is creating this distance. Our trying actually IS the distance. There are fixing / analysing mind always creates distance therefore – no matter what it does it will always create distance and it is this distance stands in the way of genuine change. It is this ‘distance’ that jinxes us every time….
‘Attending to what is going on’ has nothing to do with ‘acceptance’ in the usual sense of the word therefore. Instead of trying – in a perfectly futile way – to accept ourselves all that is needed is for us to attend to ourselves. We aren’t trying to change anything here – there no question of us trying to be different in any way, no question of us either accepting or rejecting anything. There’s no right or wrong way – we are simply relating to ourselves as we happen to be, whatever way we happen to be. No one is saying that we have to like ourselves either – it’s a lot simpler, a lot more essential than that. We are not being called upon to like ourselves – it’s not about liking or disliking – all of that is irrelevant. We’re not projecting anything on the situation, that’s not needed.
Our instinct probably tells us that there is nothing to be gained from this simple ‘attending’. The idea of ‘attending to ourselves’ generally seems pointless, fruitless. But the ‘point’ is that when we relate to ourselves in this very direct, very simple way then we are utilising that capacity that we don’t know we have, that capacity that we do not value or appreciate at all. In Daoist terms, we are drawing upon the power of the Dao, the power of ‘the natural way of things’. We are drawing upon the power of the Dao because we are not trying to change anything, because we’re not trying to gain anything. The whole world is busy trying to gain something but we’re not. We are not falling into that trap!
Another way of putting this is to say that by not trying to accept anything (anything in particular that is) we have actually accepted Everything. We have got rid of all friction. We have ‘accepted everything’ without intending to, without meaning to, without making it our aim or agenda to. We have ‘accepted everything’ in this very simple way, just by ‘attending’ to it. If don’t like myself, if I hate myself, then I don’t object to this (or in any way resist it), I simply see that this is the case!
It’s easy to see that ‘this is the case’ – it’s easy because it actually IS the case! Nothing needs to be changed. I don’t need to object to my non-acceptance of myself because I haven’t got any agenda going. I’m only in the business of ‘attending’ and there is no straining or resisting in attending. I’m not trying to ‘rise above myself’ in any way. I’m not trying to pull myself up into the air by my own shoelaces. And if I see that I am trying to change myself (if I see that I am trying to pull myself into the air by my own shoelaces) then that too is simply ‘how I am’ and there is no need to change that either. As we have said, I’m in the business of attending, not manipulating, not controlling, not judging. When I see that I am resisting what’s going on then that is just ‘how I am’ and so that is simply something else for me to attend to. It’s not ‘a problem to be fixed’ by the fixing mind!